Filmmaker Gautham Menon recalls what it was like to grow up in the times of actor Shashi Kapoor.
Deewar came up for re-release in Chennai many years after its original release in 1975. I was hardly 10 then, but still remember how eager my parents were to catch the film in a theatre. Conversations about films and actors were commonplace in our home, and recommendations were taken very seriously. So, we followed through and travelled all the way from Anna Nagar to catch the film at Ega theatre. And that’s when I began rooting for Shashi Kapoor. I still do.
Deewar is a film I have gone back to again and again over the years to try and grasp the potency of its dialogues, the power of its screenplay. I have had conversations with Javed Akhtar, the co-writer of the film, about it. I’ve told him what an intelligent move it was to cast the older Shashi Kapoor as the younger brother of Amitabh Bachchan in the film.
A decade or so later, when I learned that Shashi was making his Bollywood directorial debut with Ajooba, I badly wanted the film to do well. I couldn’t really tell you what it was about Shashi Kapoor that made me wish well for him. Perhaps it had something to do with his sprightly walk and talk. Perhaps it’s on account of how he was different from the other Kapoors. Or perhaps, it was just his breathtaking, handsome looks.
Shashi was a person you wanted no harm to befall, simply because of the charisma he exuded in his films. He always seemed to me like a gentleman who had just returned home from studying abroad. There was something sophisticated, something refined about his demeanour. You would never catch him being silly, even on screen. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that today, I often get told that the lead actors in my films are often sophisticated, refined. Perhaps it’s for the same reason that I was approached by you to talk about Shashi Kapoor.
My most recent memory of the actor was chancing upon a photo of him on a wheelchair at some function. It hurt. It’s unbearable to see some people get old and weak. Shashi Kapoor should never have been allowed to get old. I’m sure that my mother, a big admirer of the actor, would share this sentiment.
Among the songs I grew up listening at home on Doordarshan were many that featured him. Likhe Jo Khat Tujhe Woh Teri Yaad Mein, Khilte Hain Gul Yahan. All the songs in Sharmeelee for that matter. I’m thankful to my Hindi teacher at Madras Christian School, Chennai, for teaching us the language with songs. It played a big part in my ability to experience Hindi cinema.
Old Hindi film songs played a big part in my growing up. I grew up hearing and singing them. I would send couplets from such songs to impress my girlfriend in school. It’s quite likely some of those songs featured Shashi Kapoor, his sprightly walk and talk, and his dashing good looks. It can have been no other way.